A family trip around the World – Port Douglas, QLD

I was travelling with my family – my parents and my brother and sister-in-law on a Round the World ticket with multiple stops in Australia before we returned via Los Angeles having circumnavigated the globe. After an enjoyable start to our adventures in Melbourne, it was time to briefly leave city-living behind as we flew north for a few days on the coast.

We were flying to North Queensland and Cairns Airport but rather than staying in the city of Cairns, had unanimously decided to venture further north to the small coastal town of Port Douglas. We had arranged transfers to and from Port Douglas in a shared shuttle and quickly found the company upon arrival. It took about an hour to make the journey along the Captain Cook Highway and our driver happily pointed out crocodiles lazing roadside near the river and hunting birds nesting at the top of tall telegraph poles as we travelled. Our apartment complex near the beach end of the main town was the last drop off. After settling in, we went for a walk up the main high street, finding a supermarket to get some groceries from then, after dropping our shopping off back at the apartment, took a stroll down to Four Mile Beach.

A friendly cockatoo

On our first full day in the area, we decided to make use of a voucher we had for discounted entry into the Port Douglas Wildlife Park. Catching a shuttle bus which ran from the main street to the park, we only planned to spend the morning there before having an afternoon relaxing at the beach but there was way more to see and do at the park than we had expected. It was great to have a bit longer to spend hanging out with the kangaroos and other Australian animals after our flying visit to Moonlit Sanctuary while in Melbourne a few days earlier and before we knew it, it was 3pm!

The beach closes after a croc sighting

The sun still shining on our return to town, we still ventured down to the beach – only to find it closed after a crocodile sighting in the ocean, something which sounded quite bizarre to us and was a bit of a novelty!

That evening, we made use of the barbecue facilities at our apartment complex for some outdoor dining then took an evening stroll into town for some ice cream desert, boysenberry ice cream instantly becoming my new favourite flavour!

Above, Port Douglas marina, and below, on the way to the Great Barrier Reef and getting ready to snorkel and spending a day on the reef

We had booked a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef the next day, something I had always wanted to do. Opting for the pontoon based trip to the outer reef over the island based inner reef trip on offer, we made our way to Port Douglas Harbour early the next morning. It was another beautiful, hot day, perfect for a boat trip. On the way there, we were shown a video about how the day would go and given safety advice. We were told it was ‘stinger’ season but having a bit of a jellyfish phobia after being stung as a child, I decided to take up their offer of a stinger suit anyway!

Once we were docked at the pontoon, we could collect our stinger suits and snorkelling equipment and the rest of the day was at our own leisure. While my brother, sister-in-law and I happily spent plenty of time snorkelling, my parents who are not confident swimmers, mainly stayed on board the pontoon looking at the reef and the many fish from an underwater viewing platform and taking a narrated trip out on a semi-submersible vehicle between plenty of sunbathing out on the deck. Lunch was buffet-style with plenty of meat and salad options to fill us up and towards the end of the day, a selection of cheese and crackers were brought out.

It was an amazing day and we were all really sad when the siren went to signal we had to re-board the boat and leave the pontoon behind. The boat journey back proved to be exciting though when we spotted whales swimming in the distance!

Above, and below, a crocodilecruise down the Daintree River

It was another day of excursions the next day with my parents heading off on a Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail trip while my brother, sister-in-law and I took a tour to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Our trip included a stop at Mossman Gorge before we headed to the Daintree River for a scenic cruise spotting lots of huge crocodiles lazing on the banks as we went.

Above, at a Cape Tribulation lookout point, and below, a rainforest lunch spot

Then, after a quick stop at a Cape Tribulation lookout point and a barbecue lunch at a rainforest picnic spot, it was on to the beautiful Cape Tribulation Beach itself, right on the edge of the rainforest.

Above, and below, on the beach at Cape Tribulation

We were given a bit of free time to laze on the beach or paddle in the crystal clear waters before a stop in Daintree Rainforest where we followed a boardwalk through the forest as our guide talked to us about some of the many trees and plants around us. After one final stop for some exotic fruit tasting on the way back, we were dropped back in Port Douglas where we met back up with our parents to swap stories.

Above, a final stop in the Daintree Rainforest, and below, my parents’ trip to Kuranda

We had decided to take different tours due to the description of our rainforest tour saying it involved plenty of hiking and needed a moderate amount of fitness – I was unsure my father, with his 2 replacement knees would be able to cope with that. But as it turned out, the amount of walking on our trip was very little and was mainly along flat boardwalks so my parents would have coped fine.

Luckily, they both really enjoyed their day out on the scenic railway and skyrail, had a lovely time in Kuranda itself at the market and enjoying tea and cake at a cafe there and had a great time visiting Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure, a crocodile farm open to the public near Cairns, which was included in the trip.

The Sunday market at Port Douglas

The next day was our last full day in Port Douglas. Being a Sunday, there was a market on in the town so we began our day there wandering around the many stalls and sampling some of the Sugar Cane juice we’d heard so much about. Then, with it being another warm, sunny day, we spent the rest of the day on the beach enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the sea to cool off.

Above, and below, at the Cane Toad Races

That evening, we walked to a local bar to see something we’d heard a lot about since we arrived – Cane Toad racing! These toads, introduced to Australia in an attempt to control a crop-eating beetle, have since spread rapidly and have become pests themselves but in Port Douglas, they have found a use for them with Cane Toad Racing Nights at a local bar.

Upon entering the bar, we were given a raffle ticket. 5 numbers were then called out, one of which belonged to my dad.

He was invited up to the racing area along with the other lucky participants and allocated an amusingly-named toad which he then had to encourage to race across a table and into an awaiting bucket.

One last visit to Four Mile Beach

I’m not sure how much the toads enjoyed the experience but the noisy, enthusiastic audience certainly did as the whooped and cheered the toads on. After the race, we were even given the opportunity to meet and greet the toads. A bizarre way to spend our last night in the town!

We were sad to be leaving the beautiful town of Port Douglas the next day. We’d had a lovely few days enjoying the sunshine and taking excursions out to the reef and the rainforests.

After breakfast at a local cafe overlooking the beach though and a final walk along Four Mile Beach, it was time to meet our shuttle back to Cairns Airport where we’d be catching a flight to the final Australian destination on our family trip – the city of Sydney!

Back in Brisbane

Once again, the lone passenger on the Loka minibus

After New Year in Sydney and spending some time in Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Townsville and Magnetic Island and Cairns, I’d started to travel southbound down Australia’s east coast on a flexi-tour with Loka stopping at Tully Gorge National Park, returning to the Whitsundays and visiting Emu Park, Fraser Island and Noosa.

It was currently Australia Day and, after spending the morning walking along the riverside in Noosa, I was now onboard a Loka minibus heading to my next stop of Brisbane.

Crowds gather for the Australia Day fireworks

I’d been to Brisbane once before but not spent a lot of time in the city itself. During the time I did spend there, it had mainly rained, not leaving me with the best impression of the city. But I felt that maybe I hadn’t given it a fair chance and this, coupled with my desire to visit the nearby Australia Zoo, had made me decide to include it as a stop on my trip.

Waiting for the fireworks to begin

My journey to Brisbane was similar to most of the others I’d experienced since joining the Flexi-tour because I once again found myself the only passenger heading southbound. Once in Brisbane, I checked in for 3 nights at Base hostel. I’d booked a private room with shared facilities and the tiny room had just about enough room for my bed and not much else!

The hostel had a rooftop barbecue planned for the afternoon to celebrate Australia Day but heavy rain meant it had to be called off so instead, I went for a walk refamiliarising myself with the city, doing a bit of window shopping and taking a walk along the river.

That evening, I walked back to the South Bank and lined up along the riverside along with hundreds of other visitors and locals for the Australia Day fireworks. There was a great atmosphere and the display was one of the most impressive I’d ever seen.

The following day, I was up early to make my way to Australia Zoo.

At Australia Zoo, hanging with the locals

I’d spent quite a bit of time researching the best way to reach the zoo and eventually decided on using the Greyhound bus service. Picking up from the bus station in Brisbane, it dropped me at the entrance to the zoo at a reasonable time in the morning, picking me up late afternoon to return me to Brisbane.

Above, giant tortoises, and below, a fun day at Australia Zoo

I was worried how much fun I could actually have wandering around a zoo by myself but there was so much to see and do, I really enjoyed my day.

The next day, I’d planned to spend exploring the city. I was hoping to be able to do a bike or walking tour but was disappointed to find none of them were running on that day.

New Farm Park

So instead, I decided to take a river boat along the Brisbane River. I got off the boat at New Farm Park and spent some time wandering through the park, enjoying the skyline views of Brisbane city in the distance.

The park is home to Brisbane Powerhouse, an old tram power station now used as an entertainment venue hosting plays, concerts and exhibitions.

With the weather turning drizzly and then to pouring rain, I jumped back on a boat to head back to the city.

Above, looking out at the rain from the river boat, and below, at the Queensland Museum

Arriving back on the south bank, I took a stroll to Brisbane’s up and coming West End area, stopping for lunch in one of its many cafes. Then, with the weather still being dull and drizzly, I decided to visit some of the museums along the South Bank, starting with the Queensland Museum.

The museum had lots of natural history exhibits on the history of Queensland and was an interesting way to spend a few hours.

From there, I walked to the nearby Gallery of Modern Art and then across to the State Library of Queensland which had an art exhibition on.

Streets Beach, Brisbane’s Lagoon, and above, art at GoMA and the State Library of Queensland

I finished the day with another stroll along the South Bank down to Streets Beach -Brisbane’s lagoon – then walked back across the bridge to the city centre for a spot of shopping along Queen Street Mall.

Brisbane’s oldest building – The Old Windmill

The next day, I had an early afternoon pick-up scheduled but before leaving the city, I took a morning stroll to see Brisbane’s oldest building, The Old Windmill, a heritage listed building sat on top of a hill just a short walk from the hostel. Then, it was time to wait for the Loka minibus to arrive to take me to my next destination, and my penultimate stop in Australia, Byron Bay.

24 Hours in Noosa

I was into the last few days of a 5 week trip to Australia. So far I’d spent a few days in Sydney with friends over New Year, travelled to Airlie Beach for the Whitsundays, Townsville and the neighbouring Magnetic Island and Cairns with another friend and was now travelling solo, heading southbound back to Sydney on a flexi-tour organised with Loka Travel. After stops at Tully Gorge National Park, returning to the Whitsundays, a day in Emu Park and a trip to Fraser Island, I was now en route to Noosa on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.

Visiting Noosa

I began the day at Rainbow Beach, my base for my visit to Fraser Island, where I was picked up alongside a few other Loka passengers by a Loka minibus. So far,I had struggled to find fellow Loka travellers heading the same day same, spending the first few days of my trip pretty much just me and my tour guide.

Today wasn’t any different as I soon realised that every other passenger on my bus was being dropped at a nearby train station from where they’d be heading northbound to Emu Park making me the only passenger travelling southbound to Noosa!

On the beach at Noosa

There were two Loka guides on board the minibus, a driver who was new to the company and another more seasoned guide who was training him, so I at least had someone to make small talk with about my trip so far along the way. But once there, I was by myself again. I checked myself into the YHA where, for the first time all trip, I was finally taking the plunge and staying in a communal dorm.

I was put in a 4-bed co-ed dorm and while it was nice to have someone to talk to, the others in my room were a lot younger than me and I soon realised that their only plans for the day involved bars and drinking whereas I wanted to use the short amount of time I had there to see some of the area.

With the sun shining, I decided to spend the rest of the morning down at Noosa Heads Beach.

Above, and below, starting my walk along the Noosa Heads coast path.

After a spot of sunbathing, I couldn’t resist a dip in the sea although I soon started to regret that decision as the huge waves repeatedly sent me flying! Managing to drag myself out of the surf, I spent a bit of time drying out before taking a walk into town in search of something to eat.

Noosa was pretty and had a really nice feel to it. After wandering around, I decided to take a walk along the coast path to Noosa National Park.

Above, and below, walking along the coast path

I followed the path right around the coast past lots of pretty little bays to Alexandria Bay then along to Sunshine Beach before cutting through a residential district back to the hostel.I’d been a bit worried about taking the walk by myself but it was either that or not see it and there were plenty of people about also walking along the coast path so it was fine.

It was early evening by the time I got back so after popping back to the hostel for a while, I went out to get pizza for dinner. The next day was going to be Australia Day and I’d be heading to Brisbane late morning. I wanted to spend a few hours walking along the river the next morning so to make sure I was up in plenty of time, I decided to call it a night.

The next day, after checking out of the hostel, I was up to take a stroll along the river.

Australia Day celebrations along the riverside in Noosa

I was surprised to see lots of gazebos up along Noosa Parade with Australia Day celebrations already in full swing and it was a really great atmosphere.

After my walk, I returned to the hostel and went to meet the Loka minibus ready to travel south to Brisbane.

I’d really enjoyed my visit to Noosa and wished I’d had a bit more time there to take my time exploring a bit more. I’d definitely like to return there someday.

A trip to Fraser Island

Fraser Island was one of those places I’d wanted to visit for along time but despite numerous visits ‘Down Under’, I’d never yet managed to fit it into any of my trips. But this time would be different. I was travelling southbound along the east coast of Australia, from Cairns back to Sydney (where I’d spent New Year’s Eve just a few weeks before), and after stops in Tully, Airlie Beach and Emu Park, I was now heading to Rainbow Beach from where I’d finally get to take a trip to Fraser Island.

Rainbow Beach

I’d left Emu Park at the crack of dawn to catch the train from Rockhampton station. Until now I’d travelled with the same Loka tour guide since departing Cairns but once I reached Gympie today, I’d be saying goodbye as from this point forward, I’d be travelling on the Loka minibuses, driven by a different guide on each leg of the trip.

It was a long journey to Gympie, especially as unlike the other trains so far ,this train wasn’t equipped with an entertainment system so I couldn’t keep myself occupied watching films. When I arrived at Gympie, I just wanted to get to my Rainbow Beach accommodation and spend the afternoon relaxing.

Instead, as I was stood outside Gympie station wandering where the minibus was, I got a message that it was running late. It was a boiling hot day and there was no shade and nowhere to shelter from the sun. I watched as every other passenger stood waiting for a taxi or lift until I was the only one around.

On the dunes at Carlo Sand Blow

Over an hour later, I was finally met by the Loka minibus, late after picking up the northbound passengers also heading to Rainbow Beach today. It was nice to meet some fellow Loka travellers even if they did already all know each other after travelling together for the last few days and we chatted and swapped stories on the way to the hostel.

The next 3 nights would be split between Rainbow Beach and an overnight stay on Fraser Island. After my first night at the Rainbow Beach hostel, I’d have to check out of my room, pack a small overnight bag for Fraser Island and check my main luggage into storage for a night then after returning from Fraser Island, retrieve my luggage and check back into the hostel again for my final night in the area.

Watching the sunset

I’d managed to make a last minute change to my Rainbow Beach room upgrading from a dorm room to a private en suite. After checking in, I had a quick walk down through the town to the seafront and back. It was already early evening and our Loka guide had invited us to meet back at the van for a trip to the nearby Carlo Sand Blow to watch the sunset.

Normally, a guided walk would have been offered getting us there in time to sandboard on the dunes before sunset but as we’d arrived late, we wouldn’t have walked there in time so instead our guide drove us there.

The sunset was really pretty and it once again gave me the opportunity to talk with some of the other Loka passengers. On the way back, having been warned how expensive the cafes and restaurants of Rainbow Beach were, we stopped off at a local chip shop to grab food before heading back to the hostel.

White sands and crystal clear waters at Lake Mackenzie

The next morning, after a pancake breakfast at the hostel, I checked my luggage, grabbed my overnight bag and went to check in for my Fraser Island tour. After boarding our coach, we were taken to the car ferry departure terminal to make the short crossing across the ocean to Fraser Island. We were able to leave the coach to wander around the ferry and enjoy the views as long as we were back on board just before arrival.

Once on Fraser Island, we driven to our first stop of the day, Mackenzie Lake where we were split into 3 groups – day trippers, one-night stays and 2-night stays, other one-night stay passengers from various departure points other than Rainbow Island joining our group. We then had some free time at the lake.

Above, and below, Central Forest Rainforest

After changing into my bathing suit, I made my way down the path to the lake and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. The bright blue lake sits on a beach of white silica sand like that on Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays. I spent some time swimming in the crystal clear waters before drying off on the beach then meeting back at my designated coach to continue our tour of Fraser Island.

Next up was Central Forest Rainforest Walk where we followed the way-marked path through the greenery.

A lunch stop at one of the island’s hotels was next and we spotted some of the island’s infamous dingoes as we drove across the beach to our destination.

In the afternoon, we went on a walk to another lake, Lake Wabby.

Walking across the dunes to Lake Wabby

The lake lies at the bottom of the huge dunes of Hammerstone Sandblow. Once there, we had the option to swim in the lake but as the weather had clouded over, I decided to just spend some time sat on its bank relaxing and getting to know some of the other passengers in my group.

The lake has lots of ‘pedicure fish’, the fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet, and some members of the group decided to sit with their feet dangling in the water as we sat chatting.

Above, almost at Lake Wabby, and below, at Lake Wabby and hiking back

After leaving the lake and walking back to the coach, we were taken to our hotel where I was allocated a triple room to share with two German girls. After getting to know each other a bit, we all went to dinner meeting up with the rest of the group before some of us went for drinks at a nearby bar.

Above, the SS Maheno shipwreck, and below, on 75-Mile Beach

The next day after breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and met back up with our coach driver and guide for another day touring the island. Our first stop of the day was to see the SS Maheno, a shipwreck on 75-Mile Beach that has become a Fraser Island tourist attraction.

Then we drove further along the beach to see Red Canyon and the coloured sands and hiked up to Indian Head to take in the sweeping views.

Views from Indian Head

Our next stop was at Champagne Pools. Parking up on a cliff, we followed the path down to the beach where the rocks in the shallows had formed large rock pools, the water bubbling over the top like a natural jacuzzi as the waves crashed over the top.

Walking to Champagne Pools

After swimming and relaxing in the pools, we followed the path back up the cliff to where the coach was parked and a picnic lunch was waiting for us.

Waves crashing in at Champagne Pools

We had one more stop on Fraser Island at Eli Creek, a freshwater river which eventually runs into the ocean. After parking up, our guide got out a variety of inner tubes and explained that the creek acts like a natural lazy river! We took it in turns to float along the creek through the rainforest, some of the group choosing to swim down or wade through it instead. It was a really incredible experience.

Heading back to Rainbow Beach

My amazing Fraser Island adventure had almost come to an end. We were dropped back at one of the Island’s resorts for refreshments and to await our assigned coaches back to our departure point. Once on board the coach, we were taken to the ferry terminal to make our return trip back to Rainbow Beach.

It was already early evening so after recovering my luggage and checking back into my hostel room, I went to grab a, rather expensive, pizza from a local cafe and called it a night.

One day in Emu Park

A stay on Australia’s Capricorn Coast

After spending New Year’s Eve in Sydney, I’d spent a few days in Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsunday Islands, Townsville and Cairns before beginning my journey south back to Sydney. I was travelling with flexi-tour group Loka Travel and after visiting Tully Gorge National Park and returning to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, my next stop was on the Capricorn Coast in the town of Emu Park.

Meeting a baby crocodile at Koorana

We were travelling to Emu Park, a small town on Australia’s Capricorn Coast, on an evening train that already wouldn’t get us to Rockhampton station until the early hours. So, arriving at Proserpine station just outside of Airlie Beach, to find out our train was indefinitely delayed, wasn’t ideal!

Despite choosing a Loka flexi-tour in the hope that I’d get to meet and travel with others on the same route as me, I had once again found that there was a lack of passengers heading southbound and this time, found myself the only traveller heading to Emu Park.

Above, and below, meeting the residents at Koorana Crocodile Farm

While a couple of others would be on the train with me, they were continuing further down the coast so while we waited for the train to arrive, I spent some time with my Loka guide – who’d be at Emu Park with me – what the options were for my full day there.

One of the options was to take a boat out to Great Keppel Island for the day to explore and snorkel on the reef but as I’d spent a lot of time on my trip on islands – I’d already visited the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island and Green Island – I decided I didn’t really want to do this, especially as I’d be visiting by myself. Another option was a tour of a nearby cave system but as I’d been to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the USA, I was told I’d probably be disappointed by these! So instead, I decided I’d spend some time in and around Emu Park itself for the day.

The train eventually arrived almost an hour late and we settled in for the long journey. As the train was a long distance sleeper train, each seat was equipped with an entertainment system so I passed the time watching films before falling asleep.

Emu Park Beach

We arrived at Rockhampton station in the early hours and were met by someone from our Emu Park accommodation to take us to Emu Beach Resort. I was pleasantly surprised by the rooms which, for budget accommodation, felt like absolute luxury after the series of hostels so far.

The next morning, we began our day in Emu Park with a visit to Koorana Crocodile Farm.

After an introductory talk about the farm, we were taken on a guided tour in small group to see some of the huge crocodiles that lived there. An interesting way to spend an hour!

Above, and below, memorials, monuments and the Singing Ship at Emu Park

After our croc farm tour, we were dropped back in Emu Park itself where my Loka guide gave me a brief tour before we grabbed lunch at a local cafe then in the afternoon we got dropped at Bluff Point to go on a ‘turtle walk’, following the walking track up on to the cliff top from where there were beautiful views across the bay to Great Keppel Island and we could spot turtles swimming in the surf below.

We had to cut the walk short due to the stifling summer heat and rather than following the track round in a loop, instead retraced our steps back to the car park to meet our left back to the hostel. That left us with a few hours of free time to spend around the pool and relaxing before we headed out again in the evening.

Above, and below, an evening at a ranch

My Emu Park stay included a visit to a local ranch. On the northbound trips, one of the 2 nights in Emu Park is spent camping at the ranch but the train times travelling southbound didn’t allow for that so instead we’d just be spending the evening there.

Upon arriving, I made friends with the extremely cute farm dog and was kitted out with a cowboy hat to wear then shown how to make traditional ‘beer bread’ which we’d be eating with our beef stew dinner later that evening.

A sunset stroll

Then, while the stew was being prepared, we took a walk through some of the local land and I was told some of the indigenous history of the area before we watched the sunset and walked back to the farm. After eating our beef stew dinner sat out around a camp fire under the stars, we were dropped back the hostel where there was the option of going for drinks at the hostel bar.

As it had been a busy day and we had a 5am start the next day, I decided to get an early night instead.

Emu Park had been a fun, if a little random, stop on my southbound trip along Australia’s East coast and one of those places I would probably never have thought about visiting otherwise. From here I’d be travelling to my next stop at Rainbow Beach from where I’d be setting off for a trip to Fraser Island, part of the trip I’d been looking forward to for a while!

Back to the Whitsundays

Returning to Airlie Beach for more time exploring the beautiful Whitsundays

It had only been a week since I wave goodbye to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays but I’d seen and done so much since, including visits to Townsville and Magnetic Island, Cairns and Tully Gorge National Park, it felt like a lifetime ago.

Yesterday, I had joined a flexi-tour traveling down Australia’s east coast from Cairns to Sydney with Loka Travel and had found myself one of just two passengers on the Tully leg of the trip.

Having survived a night of camping by Tully River, we were now on the train with our Loka guide heading south towards Proserpine, the stop for Airlie Beach. Along the way, we stopped at Townsville station where my Tully travel buddy hopped off to spend a few days on Magnetic Island. Having visited Townsville and Magnetic Island just days earlier, I was opting to continue on to spend 2 nights in Airlie Beach where despite my recent visit, there was more I wanted to see and do.

Racing across the waves with Ocean Rafting

At Townsville, we were joined by more Loka travellers who, having spent a few days on Magnetic Island, were now also heading to Airlie but I was disappointed to find the majority of them were departing on a multi-day sailing trip through the Whitsundays the next morning and no one else was signed up to the Ocean Rafting excursion I’d opted to book from the Loka website for the next day.

Despite the ‘small group’ aspect of the tour really not working out for me so far, I was hopeful that there would at least be other solo travellers on the tour the next day that I could hang out with!

It was a long journey on the train to Proserpine and once there, our guide helped us find the bus service to Airlie then check in at Base hostel. I’d opted to book a private en-suite room, feeling the last thing I’d need after a night camping would be a noisy hostel dorm but I was surprised to find I’d been allocated a large family room with double bed, bunks and small, basic kitchenette all to myself!

It was already late evening so after grabbing food from McDonalds, I had an early night to catch up on my sleep before the early start the next day.

Swimming with the fishes

The next morning, I made my way to Coral Sea Marina to check in for my Ocean Rafting tour. Despite the Camira sail boat taking us to Whitehaven Beach on my last trip to Airlie and the Whitsundays, it hadn’t taken us to Hill Inlet, part of the beach I really wanted to see so today I’d booked a tour which I knew included this stop.

At check in, I soon got talking to the few other solo travellers on the tour and we spent the day hanging out together on the boat and at Whitehaven.

A more professional Go Pro photo of a turtle!

In complete contrast to the sedate, relaxing day spent on Camira a week earlier, the Ocean Rafting tour was a lot more energetic as the boat raced across the waves, bouncing us around and leaving us hanging on tightly as we headed out past the Whitsunday Islands.

Like on the Camira sailing trip, we made a few stops before reaching Whitehaven to snorkel on the reef.

After only seeing one so far on my trip, I was really excited on the first stop to find us swimming alongside lots of huge turtles!

Arriving on Whitsunday Island to about to walk to Hill Inlet Overlook

Finally reaching Whitsunday Island just before lunch, we took a walk to Hill Inlet Lookout and it was definitely worth the wait. The view of the huge expanse of white silica sand and the turquoise ocean glistening in the sun before us was absolutely breath-taking.

From the overlook, we then followed the path down to the beach where a buffet lunch was waiting for us.

After lunch and some free time to enjoy the beach, we climbed back on board our Ocean Rafting boat to speed across the waves back to Airlie Beach.

Arriving back mid-afternoon, I spent a bit more time hanging out with the other solo travellers from the Ocean Rafting trip shopping, sat out by Airlie Lagoon and then grabbing a pizza for dinner.

That evening, I went out to the hostel bar. My Loka guide had messaged to say a north-bound Loka group was passing through Airlie so we all went for drinks and karaoke!

On a kayak tour looking for turtles

After a late night out, I was up early again the next morning for a turtle-spotting kayak tour. I had seen the activity advertised while I was in Airlie Beach a week earlier but it had been fully booked then so I’d booked well in advance to be able to do it this time around.

After checking out and storing my luggage, I was picked up from the hostel by the kayak company and dropped at Shute Harbour where I was paired up with another participant, decked out in safety gear and given a quick lesson in paddling.

Then we climbed into our kayaks to begin our adventure.

We hadn’t gone far before we saw our first turtle bobbing up to the surface and swimming past us.

Kayaking back to Airlie Beach

As we continued to kayak out towards an island we were going to dock at, we passed a few more turtles. Eventually reaching the island, we pulled our kayaks ashore and hiked the short distance to a cabin where we had drinks and biscuits. After, we were given some free time on the beach with snorkel gear provided if we wanted to swim.

Back in our kayaks, we paddled back to Airlie Beach, excited to see yet more turtles swimming near the surface along the way.

Looking back at Airlie Beach from Bicentennial Walkway, and below, views along the walkway

It had been a fun but tiring morning. I still had a few hours before we were departing Airlie Beach that evening so after grabbing lunch from a cafe, I decided to take a walk along the Bicentennial Walkway. The pathway runs along the seafront past some of Airlie’s harbours, beaches and parks and I followed it as far as the Whitsunday Shopping Centre at Cannonvale.

After a quick look around, I returned to Airlie Beach and spent some time relaxing by the lagoon before retrieving my luggage from the hostel and going to meet my Loka guide ready to continue my journey southbound.

I had loved returning to Airlie Beach and getting to do some of the things I’d not had time to fit in on my last visit but now I was looking forward to visiting somewhere new – Emu Park.

A Tully Rainforest Adventure

I’d now been in Australia a few weeks. My trip had been broken down into three parts: New Year in Sydney with some of my best friends; two weeks with one of my Trek America travel buddies travelling to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Townsville/Magnetic Island and Cairns; and now I was about to begin the third leg, a (kinda) solo adventure, travelling back down Australia’s East Coast all the way back to Sydney.

Visiting Tully Gorge National Park

Rather than book myself onto a small-group escorted tour like I had on my previous solo-travel adventures to the USA, this time I had opted to go somewhere between escorted and completely solo backpacking with a “flexi-tour”. I chose to book with Loka Travel – part of the New Zealand Stray Travel company – as they seemed to offer a good compromise between fully escorted tours and doing it completely by myself.

They operated for small groups rather than the coach loads of rival Oz Experience, so I’d have people to travel with, using a mixture of trains and their own minibuses for transport with each leg accompanied by a tour guide. Unlike on a fully escorted tour, travellers aren’t tied down to a set itinerary but can stay on for extra days at any stop then hop onto the next tour passing through and their was a dedicated, easy-to-access booking site to reserve hostel rooms, experiences or spots on the next train/bus either in advance or as you go. As I knew I had to be back in Sydney by a certain date to make a flight, I mapped out my route in advance and pre-booked all my travel and accommodation.

The first leg of my tour would be from Cairns to Tully where the company offered an exclusive Rainforest Experience. We’d be travelling to Tully by train from Cairns station.

After meeting my guide, I was eager to find out who else I’d be travelling with only to find out that there was just one other passenger on this leg of the trip with me! I know the website said small groups but that wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. I was told that after spending New Year in Sydney, a lot of travellers were heading north to Cairns rather than travelling in the opposite direction like I was.

It didn’t spoil our fun though. Arriving in Tully late morning, we were met by our Indigineous rainforest guide and taken to a local supermarket to pick up supplies for the evening’s BBQ meal and breakfast tomorrow before we headed to Tully Gorge National Park where we’d be setting up camp for the evening. Not being a huge fan of camping, I was glad this was a one-night experience but I tried to throw myself into it as much as possible!

That afternoon, we were taken down to Tully River where we told we would get to ‘play’ in the water. This turned out to mean body-rafting through white water rapids and, much to my initial horror, wading out to waterfalls and sliding down them, plunging into the water at the bottom like they were giant water slides! We were obviously given all the necessary safety gear – life jackets and safety-helmets – and our rainforest guide acted as lifeguard while our Loka guide demonstrated how to manoeuvre through the rapids and, despite my initial reservations, I absolutely loved the experience and had a really fun afternoon.

Back at the camp, we took a walk along a calmer section of the Tully River before returning to have a traditionally prepared BBQ meal, our chicken cooked in leaves from the rainforest. We spent the next few hours chatting and amusing ourselves with card games until it was dark enough for the final activity of the day – going on a snake hunt.

Like with the body-rafting earlier, my initial reaction to finding out what we were doing was along the lines of “We’re doing what?!” but apparently, our Indigenous guide was an expert at finding and handling wild snakes so I went along with it.

I can’t say I was disappointed though when we failed to see a single snake on our drive. It was worth the drive at least to see the beautiful star-filled sky as we pulled over on a bridge across the Tully River for one last attempt to spot a snake before returning to camp to bed down in our tents for the night.

Surviving a night in the tent without seeing a single spider or any other scary minibeast, we were up at the crack of dawn for a fry up breakfast before being led into the rainforest by our Indigenous guide for an interpretive walk.

Our guide explained to us the importance of the rainforest to the Indigenous peoples and how each parts of the trees and plants that grow there are traditionally used in Indigenous culture. It was a really interesting way to finish off our rainforest experience in Tully.

After our walk, it was time to pack up camp and load up the van as we were transported back to Tully station to await a train to our next destination. For me, this would be another visit to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays just a week on from my last stay there and I couldn’t wait to go back!

A few days in Cairns

Spending 3 days in Cairns

Having spent New Year in Sydney, I’d travelled north to Queensland to met a friend, spending time in Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsunday Islands then hopping on the Greyhound to Townsville. After a few days exploring Townsville, including a visit to the nearby Magnetic Island, we were back on the Greyhound, travelling north again, this time to the city of Cairns.

About to leave Townsville for Cairns, and below, on the way to Green Island.

After a few nights in a hotel in Townsville, we were back to hostels in Cairns, staying in a private en suite room at the Cairns Central YHA. The hostel was located opposite a shopping mall and just a short walk from the seafront so we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the city, wandering down to the seafront, past the famous Cairns lagoon and shopping.

Above and below, arriving on Green Island

The next day was going to be our last day together on the trip as my friend was flying back to the UK and I would be continuing my trip, travelling south back to Sydney alone before flying to New Zealand to begin a tour of its North Island. We wanted to do something fun for the last day and had decided on a morning trip to Green Island for a spot of snorkelling followed by an afternoon at Cairns Aqua Park to tackle its giant inflatable obstacle course.

So the next morning, we were up early to walk down to the marina and catch a boat over to Green Island. We had caught the early crossing to give us plenty of snorkelling time on the island but were disappointed to find that the snorkel hire hut didn’t open to coincide with the boat’s arrivals meaning we had to waste the first 45 minutes hanging around waiting for the shutters to go up!

It was worth the wait though as once we’d hired our snorkel gear and stinger suits, we made our way to a small cove where we’d bee told we’d have a good chance of seeing turtles and within seconds of starting to snorkel, a turtle did indeed appear!

Above, spotting turtle, and below, enjoying Green Island.

We’d been hoping to see one all trip but on all our snorkeling or kayaking adventures so far had let disappointed so we were ecstatic to finally get the chance to swim along side one on our final day!

After the excitement of seeing the turtle, we spent a bit longer snorkelling in that area before making our way to a more popular beach for a bit more swimming and sunbathing before catching an early afternoon boat back across to Cairns.

After briefly going back to the hostel for a quick change and lunch, we caught a taxi to Cairns Aqua Park, just outside of the city.

At Cairns Aqua Park

The park offers awake-boarding pool with artificial waves along with an inflatable obstacle course in a large lake. After grabbing life-jackets and listening to a safety talk – during which we checked there were no crocs in the area! – we were left to attempt the obstacles ourselves, a task a lot more difficult than it looked!!

The obstacle course was a lot of fun but way more tiring than we expected. Once our time slot was up, we got a taxi back to the YHA and after freshening up, walked back into town to find somewhere to eat out for our last evening together.

First stop on the Atherton Tablelands Tour

With my friend catching an very early flight out of Cairns the next day, I awoke alone in our hostel room. Upon arriving at the hostel a few days earlier, I had made use of their in-house booking services to arrange an Atherton Tablelands small-group excursion for my day alone in Cairns so after a pancake breakfast, I waited outside for the minibus to turn up.

I always worry on these tours that I’ll be the only solo traveller but with the company aiming itself at backpackers, there were plenty of us and we had a great day all hanging out together.

Lake Barrine

The tour took us out to the rainforest where we took a short walk to see the famous Cathedral Fig Tree. This was followed by a quick photo stop at Lake Barrine before we drove out to Crater Lake.

Here, we had the chance to take a walk along the lakeside trail and take a swim in the lake before a buffet lunch.

Beautiful Crater Lake and, below, at Milla Milla Falls

After lunch we drove to Milla Milla Falls, the waterfall famous from the Peter Andre music video, where we spent some time swimming out to the waterfall and sunbathing on the shore before our penultimate stop at Dinner Falls. The last stop of the day was at the tour company’s hostel accommodation for it’s 2 and 3-day tours where we were provided with afternoon tea before heading back to Cairns.

Back at the hostel, I began packing for the next leg of my trip only for my suitcase to break.

At Dinner Falls, and below, spending the morning at Cairns Lagoon

I had passed the Cairn’s night market a few days before so decided to take a walk down in hope I could pick up a cheap case to tide me over for the rest of the trip. The busy market was definitely worth a look around with arrange of stalls selling a variety of souvenirs and other items. I found what I was looking for and dragged the case back to the hostel, stopping off to grab a pizza for dinner on the way back.

The next day, would be my final day in Cairns. I spent the morning down at Cairns Lagoon, an experience way more positive than my experience at Airlie Lagoon. The site was a lot more attractively laid out than Airlie’s lagoon, the water seemed cleaner and its temperature was a lot better.

That afternoon I had booked a white water rafting session with Raging Thunder Adventure Company out at Barron River.

Above, off to white water raft, and below, rafting on Barron River

I was picked up in a minibus along with other groups from the hostel and taken out to the company’s headquarters where we were given a safety briefing, given our safety equipment and put into groups of 6 for our rafts. As many of those taking part that afternoon had come as part of escorted tour groups like Contiki, as one of the few solo travellers, I was added to a group of five to make up the numbers.

Despite not knowing anyone else in my tour group, I had an amazing time rafting down the river. I had rafted once before, in Wyoming on my Trek America tour, and loved it then but this was way more intense and exciting with us even being asked at one point to leave the boat and body-raft through some white water.

Exhausted, I returned to the hostel that evening for a quiet night in ready to begin a new solo travel adventure early the next day.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

Our 3-night Townsville itinerary

On the Greyhound to Townsville, and below, exploring Townsville

I was a couple of weeks into a 5 week trip to Australia’s East coast and after spending New Year in Sydney, I had since spent 5 nights based in Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsunday Islands. Now we were sat on a Greyhound bus, early on a Sunday morning, making our way up the coast to Townsville. The Queensland town would be our base for the next 3 nights and we planned to spend the afternoon we arrived in the local area, then a day visiting a nearby animal sanctuary and one day visiting Magnetic Island.

We had high hopes for Townsville after reading about it being an up and coming, bustling place to visit so after checking into our hotel, we headed straight back out to see what the town had to offer.

Sculptures along Townsville seafront

We were immediately struck by how quiet it was everywhere. It was Sunday and some of the stores seemed to be closed, others about to close for the afternoon so we walked down to the seafront. Here too, there were very few people about. Passing the marina, we then followed the path alongside the waterfront passing a few sculptures dotted along the front, a large children’s play area and outdoor pool, and a small beach.

We were hoping to find somewhere to eat at but instead had to settle for an ice cream from a truck near the beach.

Walking back towards the centre, we passed the Museum of Tropical Queensland. With very little else open and feeling we’d already see a lot of the town, we decided to go in and spent the next hour looking around. The museum had some natural history exhibits and some exhibits on the history of the region and was an interesting way to spend a bit of time.

After our visit to the museum, we crossed George Roberts Bridge across Ross Creek into South Townsville, still hoping to find somewhere to eat. Finding everywhere closed or deadly quiet, we instead settled for ice cream before walking back to our hotel, spending the evening doing laundry and ordering in Dominos!

For our first full day in Townsville, we had made plans to visit Billabong Sanctuary just outside of the main town. We’d bought a ticket which included a return journey in a minibus, the driver picking us up just across the road from our hotel that morning.

At Billabong Sanctuary

I’d visited animal sanctuaries on my previous visit to Australia and getting to hang out with the kangaroos and wallabies had always been a highlight of any trip so I was excited for the day. We expected to spend the morning there and maybe be back in Townsville mid-afternoon to explore a bit more and see if it was any more alive on a Monday but our visit to the sanctuary took actually took all day and when the last minibus left a bit before the sanctuary closed, we wished we could stay a while longer!

Hugging a wombat

The sanctuary wasn’t any bigger than those I had visited in other parts of Australia but rather than leaving visitors to look around at their own pace, it offered the option of a program of animal meet and greets throughout the day. We attended most of these timetabled events which included feeding huge cassowary birds, cuddling a wombat, holding various reptiles, a talk about the crocodiles as we watched them being fed by the brave keepers and a turtle race.

Feeding a turtle

The reason we didn’t want to leave at the time of the last bus back was because it clashed with a meet and greet session with the dingoes which we would have loved to do! But we really loved that there was so much to do and there were plenty of kangaroos and wallabies to hang out with between the scheduled events!

It was worth visiting Townsville just to go to Billabong Sanctuary!

Back in Townsville, realising that there wasn’t a great deal to do for the evening, we found a local cinema and made plans to go to an evening movie screening. We again struggled to find somewhere to eat, eventually making do with a hotel restaurant just across the road which offered a cheap 2-course menu and making it in to the cinema right before the film started!

Feeding a resident bird

The next day, we were down at Townsville marina early to catch the ferry across to Magnetic Island. Arriving on the island, we made use of the local bus service there, buying a day ticket and hopping on to reach Horseshoe Bay. We’d done some research on what Magnetic Island has to offer but hadn’t made any definite plans on how we would spend our day there.

Seeing the Bungalow Bay Koala Village as we got off the bus and having enjoyed our time with the animals at Billabong Sanctuary the day before, we decided to visit the sanctuary.

Inside, we were given a talk on some of the animals housed there and given the opportunity to interact with them, feeding some of the birds, stroking a koala and holding some of the weird and wonderful reptiles and other Australian creatures (I don’t recommend holding a spiky echidna!!). While we would probably have enjoyed this more having not had similar experiences at Billabong Sanctuary the day before, it was still a fun way to spend an hour.

Above, and below, beautiful Horseshoe Bay

From the koala village, we walked the short distance downhill to the stunning Horseshoe Bay. Here, we hoped to find some water-based activities to do before having some lunch. Seeing pedalos lined up on the shore we enquired about hiring one only to be told they were for children only.

Having kayaked in Airlie Beach just a few days earlier, we didn’t want to hire one of these again and weren’t brave enough to try the jet-skis so instead we decided to just go for a dip in the ocean to cool off. This was cut short when, not having stinger suits to protect us,we saw a jellyfish and couldn’t get out of the water quick enough!

At Alma Bay

Drying ourselves off, we went for lunch at one of the cafes lining the beach before catching the bus along to the pretty cove of Alma Bay then walking along to the nearby Geoffrey Bay, a long sweeping bay part of the Marine National Park Zone.

With time rapidly passing us by, we caught the bus further around the island to Picnic Bay. Here, we grabbed drinks and ice cream from a bar overlooking the beach before catching the bus back to the ferry terminal and returning to Townsville.

Ending our day on Magnetic Island at Picnic Bay

We’d enjoyed our day on Magnetic Island but as pretty as all the beaches were, they had all started to blend into one and we did wish we’d spent more time planning our day, maybe doing some of the many walks the island has to offer or hiring snorkeling gear.

Back in Townsville, rather than another inevitably unsuccessful search for somewhere to eat, we made do with the McDonalds near our hotel.

Then it was time to pack and have an early night ready for a dawn start to catch the Greyhound to our next destination, Cairns.

The Whitsundays

After spending New Year in Sydney, I was now on a road trip up the coast of tropical Queensland to Cairns.

Having arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays a few days earlier, we had spent the last few days exploring the local area and now planned on using Airlie as our base for getting out into the Whitsunday Islands themselves.

We had pre-booked a package ticket giving us access to 3 days worth of excursions – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a one day island-hopping ticket to use at our own leisure and a full day sailing trip through the Whitsundays on a catamaran – and had booked to do them on consecutive days in that order.

Spotting a clown fish on the reef

So today, we were up early to walk down to the Port of Airlie, home of Cruise Whitsundays. Here, we checked in and boarded a Cruise Whitsundays boat which would be dropping passengers off at Hamilton Island before continuing on to Knuckle Reef pontoon docked at the Great Barrier Reef. The boat ride itself was thrilling, speeding through the ocean past all the Whitsundays Islands.

Once at the pontoon, we had the day to spend at leisure – snorkelling the reef, viewing the reef from the underwater observatory, taking a ride out on the semi-submersible for a guided commentary on the reef or just enjoying the sunshine from the deck. A buffet style lunch was also included.

There were some optional extras such as Go Pro hire and scuba diving sessions and we had decided to book the guided snorkel safari. On the boat out to the reef, we were talked through the procedures for this and told where to meet and at what time once on board the pontoon – it would take place right after we arrived so we’d then have the rest of the day to explore ourselves.

Looking out from the pontoon

After arriving at the pontoon, we were supplied with snorkelling equipment and ‘stinger suits’ – a thin full body suit to protect us from any jellyfish in the water then went to meet our guide for the snorkel safari. There was just a small group of us on the safari and we were taken out to look at sections of the coral while our guide explained a bit about what we were seeing and some of the fish that lived there.

We also got to meet Wanda, the areas resident Maori Wrasse, a huge but very friendly fish!

On the snorkel safari, and throughout the day, Cruise Whitsundays team members took photos of us and the reef which we later had the option of purchasing.

After our snorkel safari, it was time for lunch – a selection of cold meats, salad, bread and pasta which we could help ourselves too. We then took a trip out on the semi-submarine before spending the rest of the day snorkelling at our leisure. In the blink of an eye, the day was over and it was time to board the boat back to Airlie Beach.

On Hamilton Island

The next day, we were back at the Port of Airlie and the Cruise Whitsundays terminus once again. Today we would be using our Island-hopping ticket starting with a boat trip out to Hamilton Island. We planned to spend the morning there and a couple of hours to explore before we had our scenic flight over the Whitsundays booked.

After that, we planned to hop on a boat over to Daydream Island where we would spend the afternoon before returning to Airlie Beach.

Arriving on Hamilton Island, we began exploring finding our way to Catseye Beach. From here, we walked along to the village then up to One Tree Hill where we enjoyed the beautiful views from its lookout.

Wandering back down to the village, we then made our way to the airfield to check in for our Hamilton Air scenic flight.

On board a small aircraft for a scenic flight over the Whitsundays, and below, views from the flight

Boarding a small aircraft with just 2 other couples, we were very excited but the flight exceeded even our expectations. It was perfect weather with mainly blue skies and just a few small clouds as we soared above the many Whitsunday Islands and out across the Great Barrier Reef.

Highlights included seeing Heart Reef, where the coral has naturally formed into a heart shape, and flying over Hill Inlet, an amazing stretch of white silica sand and crystal clear waters. The flight was definitely worth every penny!

Once back on land, we returned to the Hamilton Island Cruise Whitsundays terminal and caught the next boat over to Daydream Island.

Arriving just after 2pm, it was past our lunchtime and we were pretty hungry but we struggled to find somewhere to eat.

Daydream Island

The kiosks at the main resort stopped serving its hot snacks of pizza slices and burgers at 2 so we’d just missed out. We eventually found a restaurant open further along the island near its Mermaid sculptures and ended up paying slightly more than we’d have liked for a sit down pizza meal!

A kangaroo wandering through Daydream Island, and below, exploring the island

After lunch, we walked down to Mermaid Beach to get photos with the three mermaid sculptures then spent the rest of the afternoon following some of the island’s trails past its resort hotels, along the coast,through rainforest and out to some of its small bays before catching the boat back to Airlie Beach.

Above, and below, sailing on Camira

For our final day in the Whitsundays, we had booked a full-day sailing adventure on Camira, a distinctive purple catamaran. Unfortunately, we had awoken to overcast skies and while it was still warm, it took the shine off cruising past all the Whitsunday Islands a bit.

A quick stop for some snorkling

After sailing out past some of the Whitsunday islands, the boat docked for a while to give us the chance to get out into the water and snorkel. We were provided with stinger suits and snorkeling equipment and it was fun to get out on the reef again and snorkel.

Whitehaven Beach

Back on board, we had a delicious barbecue lunch provided as we cruised to our next stop, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. We were hoping we’d dock by Hill Inlet which we’d seen from our scenic flight the previous day but instead we were dropped at the other end of the beach and warned not to go off in search of Hill Inlet as it was too far a trek and we’d not make it back in time.

Overcast weather on Whitehaven Beach, and below, more photos from our day on Camira

The overcast weather had not cleared so it wasn’t really sunbathing weather. The boat crew had brought various beach games and equipment ashore so instead we grabbed buckets and spades and amused ourselves building sandcastles out of the white silica sand before cooling off with a dip in the ocean.

Then it was back aboard Camira for a leisurely sail back to the Port of Airlie, the clouds starting to break up a bit as we neared our destination.

While we enjoyed our day sailing on Camira, it was our least favourite excursion of the week although this was possibly due to the weather not being quite as nice – everything looks better in the sunshine and unfortunately that was mainly missing from our day.

Back in Airlie, we walked back to our Magnums hostel accommodation grabbing some snacks on the way.

Exhausted from a busy week, we began to pack up our things as we had a very early start the next day to catch the Greyhound bus up the coast to Townsville at the crack of dawn. I’d loved my time in the Whitsundays. I’d be passing through again on the way back to Sydney just a few weeks later and I couldn’t wait to return!